Excerpt from The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Great Unraveling

Losing Our Way in the New Century

by Paul Krugman

The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 426 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2004, 480 pages

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Print Excerpt

I began writing for The New York Times in January 2000. Neither I nor The Times knew what I was getting into.

I was and am an economics professor by trade. International financial crises were one of my main specialties, and I spent much of the 1990s tracking and commenting on disasters abroad. Some of my work consisted of what I call "Greek-letter" economics, abstruse papers for the professional journals. But I also wrote about global economic issues for a wider audience. By 1998 I had two regular monthly columns, one in Fortune and one in the online magazine Slate; some of those columns are included in this collection.

In the summer of 1999 The New York Times contacted me about writing for the paper's Op-Ed page. Howell Raines, then the paper's editorial page editor, felt that in an age when, more than ever, the business of America was business, The Times needed to broaden its Op-Ed commentary beyond the traditional focus on foreign affairs and domestic politics. I was brought on in the expectation that I would write about the vagaries of the new economy, the impacts of globalization, and bad policies in other countries. I didn't expect to spend a lot of time on domestic politics, since everyone assumed that American policy would remain sensible and responsible.

I have tried, as best I can, to cover economics and business. As you'll see, some of the columns in this book are straight economic analyses, without a political edge. But as events unfolded, politics inevitably intruded. More and more, I found myself speaking very uncomfortable truth to power.

Why me?

These days I often find myself accused of being a knee-jerk liberal, even a socialist. But just a few years ago the real knee-jerk liberals didn't like me at all—one magazine even devoted a cover story to an attack on me for my pro-capitalist views, and I still have the angry letter Ralph Nader sent me when I criticized his attacks on globalization. If I have ended up more often than not writing pieces that attack the right wing, it's because the right wing now rules—and rules badly. It's not just that the policies are bad and irresponsible; our leaders lie about what they are up to.

I began pointing out the outrageous dishonesty of the Bush administration long before most of the rest of the punditocracy. Why did I see what others failed to see? One reason is that as a trained economist I wasn't even for a minute tempted to fall into the he-said-she-said style of reporting, under which opposing claims by politicians are given equal credence regardless of the facts. I did my own arithmetic—or, where necessary, got hold of real economists who could educate me on the subjects I wrote about—and quickly realized that we were dealing with world-class mendacity, right here in the U.S.A. I wasn't entirely alone in this: one thing I've noticed the last few years is that business reporters, who know a bogus number when they see one, have often accused our leaders of outrageous mendacity even while political pundits celebrate those leaders for their supposed sterling character. But the writings of business reporters necessarily have a narrow focus, and rarely affect political commentary. With a wider brief, and a spot on the Op-Ed page, I attracted a lot more attention.

I have also been willing to see things differently, and report on what I see, because I'm not properly socialized. The commentariat mainly consists of people who live in Washington and go to the same dinner parties. This in itself foments group-think; at any given moment there is a story line that shapes journalists' perceptions. Until September 11 this story line had it that George W. Bush was dumb but honest; after September 11 the new story was that he was a tough-minded hero, all determination and moral clarity, "Texas Ranger to the world." (Yes, one prominent pundit actually wrote that.) The overwhelming evidence that neither of these pictures bore any resemblance to reality was simply brushed aside.

From The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century by Paul Krugman. Copyright Paul Krugman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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